Preview and Chat: Lakers vs. Rockets

Darius Soriano —  January 8, 2014

I’ll be completely honest with you. I hate losing. The old cliché about hating losing more than liking winning applies to me. This is why, even though I completely understand the long term benefits of a high draft pick and how high performing players on rookie contracts are one of the most valuable resources under this CBA, I can’t entirely get behind the concept of rooting for losses (and the resulting draft pick that comes with those losses). I’d compare it to going to the dentist regularly. Yes, I understand the benefits of seeing my dentist, just don’t expect me to get excited about the prospect of going to see him and having him scrape my teeth with metal tools.

I say all this because, after last night’s loss, I’ve found myself becoming more numb to the losses. During the second half of the Mavs game, there really wasn’t one moment where I thought the game was winnable or that the Lakers would pull it out. At one point the team was down only four points. At another, they trailed by 6 or 7 points but Dirk had just gone to the bench, setting up one of the best situations the team could find themselves in if hoping to make a come back. Even in those instances, I wasn’t really confident they would win.

After the game, Nick Young said the mood in the locker room was like a funeral. Without being in that room inside the bowels of the Mavs’ arena, I can say I totally understand what Young means. The saying “bringing a knife to a gun fight” applies to the Lakers right now. They are outgunned almost every night from a talent perspective. Increasingly, they need to play closer and closer to their top game to beat below average teams. They get down big in games, make some in-game runs to close the gap, but seem to not be able to get over the hump.

It’s dispiriting. And it’s starting to show in the body language of the players. After his funeral comment, Young said the team needed to get some “swag” back. That will be easier said than done considering the amount of talent wearing suits instead of uniforms when the games start. But Young is right. The team needs something to go their way that they can build on. Here’s hoping it starts tonight.

As for tonight, the Lakers face off against the Rockets and their old friend Dwight Howard. They are a respectable 22-13 on the season, but even being 9 games over .500 is only good for the sixth seed in the West.  The Rockets also enter this game a bit banged up. Omer Asik is out with a hip ailment. Patrick Beverly has a broken hand and will not play. Chandler Parsons is questionable with a knee issue, though I’d imagine he suits up.

Even with these injuries, the Rockets have a strong core of contributors led by Howard and James Harden. Both will be all-stars this year and likely all-NBA performers as well. They’re flanked by Jeremy Lin and Terrence Jones in the starting lineup and when you add Francisco Garcia, Aaron Brooks, and Omri Cassipi to them you have a nice rotation with extreme talent at the top and capable role players throughout the roster.

If the Lakers hope to take down this team, they’ll need to focus their efforts in two distinct areas – pick and roll defense and controlling the backboards. These two things are linked, of course, as Harden and Lin’s work in the P&R triggers the type of defensive rotations that then open up offensive rebounding opportunities and makeable outside jumpers.

The Lakers would be best served playing off both Lin and Harden and turn them into jumpshooters. Both are very capable of hitting shots from the outside (with both being able to turn a game when they get hot), but Harden is only shooting 32% on 6 attempts a game and Lin is at 37%. The latter is a fine number, of course, but Lin shoots over 53% from two point range and Harden is over 52%. Both are also adept at getting to the FT line when attacking off the dribble in the half and open court, so laying off them is the best option.

As for the rebounding, the Lakers must mark Dwight Howard constantly and keep a body on him at all times. Actively boxing out Dwight serves two purposes – 1). It keeps him from getting easy baskets from put-backs and tip ins and 2). Dwight can be foul prone when he’s boxed out as he will use his hands to fight off defenders and try to use his athleticism to go over the top of his man. If the Lakers can get Dwight on the bench with silly fouls, they’ll be in much better position to compete for the full 48 minutes.

Offensively, I sound like a broken record, but the Lakers must continue to move the ball in and out of the paint – either via direct post ups, passes to the dive man in the P&R, or via dribble penetration – and then hit open shooters beyond the arc. Those shooters must then hit their shots at a solid rate. The Lakers have no chance to win if they’re minus-15 or minus-21 from behind the arc; the three point ball is too vital to their offensive production. On this same note, Ryan Kelly needs to be a bit more assertive when he makes a catch behind the three point line. He’s out there to stretch the floor and while I appreciate his willingness to move the ball to the open man or attack closeouts with a hard dribble in an attempt to make a play for himself or a teammate, he needs to let it fly more. With more minutes comes more responsibility to be a factor on offense, especially since his defense and rebounding aren’t the strong suits to his game.

Where you can watch: 5:00pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710AM.

Darius Soriano

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